CHRIS McLaren thinks he struggled to touch the football in his Hampden league senior debut 20 years ago.
But the lessons he learned playing alongside Koroit’s best helped forge his path to 300 senior matches.
The current-day Koroit coach will become just the third Saints’ footballer to reach the milestone as a one-club player when he runs out against Portland on Saturday.
McLaren, who has made his mark as a key defender, said he played in a star-studded forward line as a 17-year-old debutant.
“I remember playing forward pocket and I think the full-forward line was myself, Tony Russell and Jason Mifsud,” he said of the 1997 match against Cobden.
“I did a fair bit of chasing as a defender I think rather than leading and marking the ball.
“Honestly, I can’t remember touching the ball much at all in that game.”
McLaren, now 37, held his spot – despite his harsh personal appraisal – for the remainder of the 1997 season.
“We were going pretty well early that year but didn’t make the finals. I reckon that was the last time we missed the finals,” he said.
The teenaged McLaren didn’t have to look far for advice with the likes of Damian Dobson, Mark Bowman, Dallas Ludeman and Mifsud around the club.
“They’re my great mates now but they were a bit older than me, so they definitely took me under their wing in the early days,” McLaren said.
“As a junior player, Jason Mifsud had the most impact in your footy.
“He took over coaching my first year and coached for six or eight years, so I played a lot of footy under one coach.”
McLaren, whose wife Sarah still plays netball at the club, has gone on to become a five-time Hampden league premiership player, carrying on a rich family tradition at the Saints.
His grandfather Jack Keane is a Koroit sporting icon.
His father Brian McLaren played in flags in the 1970s and brothers Joe and Liam have also etched their name in Saints’ history.
“Three boys and all of us have daughters, no boys,” McLaren said of his family tree.
“No father-sons – I have two daughters, Joe’s got two and Liam’s got four.
“They’ll be a good netball side one day maybe.”
McLaren, who estimates he’s missed 100 games through injury, joins Damian and Brendan Dobson as the only players to reach the 300 senior game mark at Koroit.
Fellow Saints legends Andrew Foster and Nick O’Sullivan also reached the tally but with appearances at other clubs.
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